Boston College Magazine Spring 2004  

Dramatis personae

More alumni and student scene setters


ACCESS THEATER
New York City
Jaqueline Christy '88

Jaqueline Christy entered the off-off-Broadway world through diamond-plate steel doors. While a graduate theater student at Villanova University in the late 1980s, the actress/director/writer worked at a concrete company. Business was booming, with thousands of water and sewer pumping stations being built to meet federal environmental mandates. Yet, Christy noticed, only three manufacturers in the country were producing the stations' access doors—the type of flat steel hatches often found in city sidewalks. Christy had an idea.

Within a year, the slight, five-foot-three actress and an engineer friend were producing access doors with a manufacturing company in Queens. Two years later, in 1992, with a half-dozen employees and a contract to supply the Denver International Airport, the Access Door Company leased the fifth floor of an abandoned New York City warehouse. The turn-of-the-century building in TriBeCa became headquarters for the door company; it would also become the home of Christy's next business venture, Access Theater. Christy and a team of volunteers renovated the space, knocking down walls and building new ones and installing the rigging for a black-box theater. After a year of running both businesses, Christy sold her share of the door company and signed herself on as Access Theater's first full-time employee. BC classmates Ellen Daschbach '88 and Jacquie Brogan '88 later joined her to help manage the theater, and the three have dedicated themselves to producing works by emerging New York City artists.

Today, Access Theater offers two performance spaces: the 60-seat black-box theater, and a 1,500-square-foot rehearsal gallery next door. The theater has launched several artists whose projects have gone on to reach a wider audience: Tape, a play by Stephen Belber that premiered at Access, became a feature film starring Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke; playwright Tom McCarthy '88, who staged his first play, The Killing Act, at Access, met actor Peter Dinklage during the production. McCarthy later cast Dinklage as the star of his 2003 feature film, The Station Agent, which won three awards at the Sundance Film Festival.


AMNESIA WARS THEATER COMPANY
New York City
Rob Reese '92

Over the last 12 years, Rob Reese has been a sketch comedian, an improv instructor, a director, producer, set designer, theater technician, playwright, television writer, and theater company founder. He has also been a bike messenger, taxi driver, furniture mover, and office temp.

As a BC freshman, Reese cofounded the campus sketch troupe, Hello...Shovelhead. After graduation, he earned a spot in Chicago's Second City Training Center and spent the next four years studying with the likes of Del Close of ImprovOlympic and performing with rising comedians such as future Saturday Night Live players Tina Fey and Amy Poehler '93. But, says Reese, "After a certain point, you reevaluate the dream. . . . Out of 1,000 people, Second City [main stage] hires six."

On the last day of 1996, Reese moved to New York City. There he eventually placed an ad in the trade magazine Backstage and held auditions for a new ensemble theater troupe, Amnesia Wars. ("The name represents the ephemerality of improv and the battle to forget everything you know," he said in an interview at a Midtown coffee shop. Smiling, he added, "I knew an 'A' name put us in the front of the phone book.")

Since the late 1990s, Reese's troupe of four to 10 players has produced everything from a long-form improv show called Psycheroticproviholicyesandsomthinvoodoo, to Reese's own adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Amnesia Wars appears semi-frequently in New York at the Peoples Improv Theater (the PIT), several off-off-off-Broadway theaters, and in the back room of the Park Side Lounge, a dive bar on Houston Street. The group has also performed at the Amsterdam International Improv Festival and the Harare International Theatre Festival in Zimbabwe.

The company's latest show, Reese's own Keanu Reeves Saves the Universe, enjoyed two six-week sold-out runs last year and will likely open again this spring at the PIT. This time, Reese is looking for investors and professional producing partners. "Every project brings the full-time writer/producer dream closer," he says. "If Keanu works out as I hope, maybe this will be the year."


BUZZWORKS THEATER COMPANY
Los Angeles
Andrea Beutner Hutchman '88

In Los Angeles, live theater is considered the "lesser cousin of 'the Industry,'" says Andrea Hutchman, whose itinerant theater company, Buzzworks, performs in various city venues. "It's not a place where actors get noticed for sitcoms, and no one makes big bucks."

For Buzzworks, this year will be a proving ground. The company, like many of the city's residents, is a transplant, and the challenge is to grow roots. Buzzworks was born in 1992 in Minneapolis, where Hutchman (then called "Buzz" for her closely shorn hairstyle) had moved with a group of BC friends, fellow alumni of the campus improv group My Mother's Fleabag. With two new acquaintances, Hutchman cofounded Buzzworks, originally as a "vanity project," she says. "We were actors who wanted a place to act." She gradually began finding outside acting work—in local theater and TV commercials—but she continued to develop the company. "To me, creating and running a nonprofit became an art in itself," she said in a telephone interview. "I began to love it differently from acting, I wanted it to grow."

In 1996, Hutchman followed an acting job to Los Angeles, and she and her Minnesota partners ran separate arms of Buzzworks. But the companies were growing in different directions—Minnesota continued to produce more traditional plays, L.A. searched out the new. Last year, they separated; Buzzworks, with its staff of one (Hutchman), is now managed out of Hutchman's L.A. home.

"This will be a new version of Buzzworks," says Hutchman, who recently mined her West Coast contacts and put together a board of directors drawn from the artistic and business communities. She has organized several fundraising events, including a flea market. A six-week show costs a minimum of $20,000 to stage, she says, without paying the cast. "We've done 10 plays out here already, but in many ways our next play, in February, will be our first," Hutchman says. Buzzwork's production of William Inge's 1950 play Come Back, Little Sheba—the setting shifted from the Midwest to a tawdry North Hollywood—opens on February 17th at the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks, California.


AFTER HOURS THEATER
Boston College
Madeline Long '05 and Jennifer Boarini '05

Last spring, junior theater majors Madeline Long and Jennifer Boarini cofounded the After Hours Theater on the Boston College campus. Like more-established performance groups at BC—the Dramatics Society, the Contemporary Theater, and the comedy troupes My Mother's Fleabag and Hello...Shovelhead—After Hours relies on student talent for directors, producers, designers, and actors. Long and Boarini's group, however, is dedicated to producing short, student-written scripts.

While the Dramatics Society has sponsored readings of students' plays and, this winter, associate theater professor Scott Cummings will direct two full-scale, hour-long student one-acts, as theater major Elizabeth Bouchard '06 explains, "After Hours is the only place where you can submit original shorter work and have it performed as a real production." Bouchard's 10-minute play, Rings of Life, was produced last fall, one of four scripts selected for After Hours' second-ever show. "It is a brand-new opportunity," Bouchard says, and "people are jumping at it." Last September, when the company's core members—Long, Boarini, Bouchard, and Lindsey Steffen '07—sent an e-mail through the theater department's listserv and posted flyers in Robsham Theater seeking scripts for the fall quartet, they received 35 submissions.

The plays are staged with minimal sets—a few strategically placed chairs, a small table, a tree crafted from construction paper. Rehearsals take place in empty classrooms. A meeting arranged by Long and Boarini with theater professors last spring led to a deal to use the Bonn Studio, the small black-box performance space behind the Robsham Theater, for shows scheduled "after hours," that is, when other performance groups no longer needed the space. Long and Boarini secured a 10:30 p.m. time slot, and, in the process, a name for their company.

Few aside from the artists' friends knew about the group when they first performed last spring. For their second production, the 200-seat theater was packed. A video of one of the plays presented in the fall, Clam and Hershel Go to the Market by Crystal Gomes '05, can be viewed here.

Cara Feinberg

 

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